5 Stages of Goal Achievement

5 stages of goal achievement

Whether through my coaching practice or those participating in my mentor program, clients often share that they are really good at setting goals but then…… they fizzle out. Understandably, that is met with frustration and confusion. But, understanding the 5 stages of goal achievement goes a long way to keep us moving through each phase. After all, if a goal has meaning and will help you fill your intentions, then it is worth giving it your effort and your best.

The Emotional Cycle of Change

A huge part of failing to achieve goals is that as humans we tend to be good at starting something new but not so great at finishing. Rob Dial described why that is the case in his podcast, The Mindset Mentor and it is wrapped around five stages that are actually known as an Emotional Cycle of Change.

The emotional cycle of change model was developed by Don Kelley and Daryl Conner in the 1970s in response to research showing that when we choose to make a change in our lives, many people go through a predictable cycle of emotions.

Likewise, this can easily be translated to the emotional cycle people experience when working towards big goals. However, when you know what emotions to expect in these situations, it’s much easier to cope with them. So, let’s reframe this and take a look at this cycle as it pertains to the 5 stages of goal achievement.

5 Stages of Goal Achievement

Stage 1 – Uninformed optimism

The first stage is uninformed optimism.  You’re excited and you want what you want and you can see the benefits of achieving your goal but at this stage you often don’t see the costs.  The enthusiasm and optimism are the primary emotions driving you at this stage.

Stage 2 – Informed Pessimism

The second stage is called informed pessimism.  You move out of the first stage of uninformed optimism and things are getting harder. Your attention shifts from focusing on the benefits to recognizing the costs. You can see that this goal is going to involve hard work and doubt starts to seep in. This can lead to negativity and essentially, the scales can tip to seeing the difficulties more than the benefits.  You’ll start to question if the benefits are worth all the effort you have to put in.

Stage 3 – Valley of Despair

When it comes to using this cycle of change for the 5 stages of goal achievement, the third stage is different from the emotional cycle of change. In this case, the third stage is the valley of despair. Basically, it is the lowest point and you experience the despair of change and amount of effort this goal is going to take. Uncertainty takes centre stage and the easiest thing to do is quit. 

However, let’s consider the reality of giving up or quitting too soon. The bottom line is that if you quit working towards your current goal, you’ll just move onto something else. That’s human nature. And then what happens? Let’s face it, you will be back at stage one of that NEW thing and then stage two and yup, you end up in stage three again. You will go through the exact same emotional cycle.  So if you stick it out – you will get through the valley of despair and move onto stage 4.

Stage 4 – Informed Optimism

Stage 4 is informed optimism but is also called hopeful realism.  The possibility of success increases and you will actually become more optimistic (and determined) about the road you’re on.  The benefits come into focus again because you’re making progress. As you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the costs are feeling more worth it.

At this stage, it is incredibly important that you take time to celebrate those wins – no matter how small.  This will sustain you to make the short(er) trip to the finish line.

Stage 5 – Success and Fulfillment

Speaking of which – the finish line or final stage is success and fulfillment.  The costs that seemed so huge at stages two and three feel worth it now. And, remember how you felt in stage one when you saw the benefits so clearly? Stage five brings those benefits back into focus as you move into achieving your goal and fulfilling your intention. and recognizing that it was worth the effort because it gave you all those benefits that you listed in the beginning.

Tips to Get Through the 5 Stages of Goal Achievement

Although it would be wonderful to move from stage one directly to stage five, that’s not how life works. But, knowing these five stages outlined in this model will help you to understand and anticipate your emotional responses. Armed with that knowledge, you can better equip yourself to not give up when the going gets tough.

A couple tips to get you through these 5 stages of goal achievement.

  1. Try this exercise. Set a timer for two minutes and make a list of why you want to achieve that goal. Braindump all the benefits that you will get from achieving it. Keep your pen moving for the entire two minutes. Dig deep. You may also want to consider what intention that goal will fulfill. Your intentions take you back to how you want to FEEL so there are likely a lot of benefits within that.
  2. Review each stage and consider what tools you can use to cope with your changing emotional responses. Some suggestions: find a mentor, work through self-sabotaging habits, create detailed action plans and/or use a project management system, get an accountability partner, hire the right people, use affirmations. There are so many ways to stay on track but it’s important to find the tools that fit both your style and your goal.

Most importantly, celebrate along the way. Small steps are still steps that move your forward.

2 thoughts on “5 Stages of Goal Achievement”

  1. I feel like I knew there was a cycle that your mind goes through, every time you start something new. But knowing what that cycle is called and having a break down of each stage and the emotions you will feel in that stage has given me more control. I know what’s to come and how my mind will react and now I feel like I can work towards pushing through those feelings and reaching my goals. Thank you. I hope 2024 is a great, successful year for everyone.

    • I’m so happy this helped. Coincidentally, I just listened to that particular podcast again! I appreciate you sharing and if you’re keen to do some planning for the new year, I’m rolling out some blogs that walk you through a process. Happy 2024.


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